South by Southwest in Austin might be the most fun we have all year. Where else do a thousand bands play in one town in four days? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of traditional festivals, but SXSW is different. ALL over town there are bands playing and people throwing parties at all hours. And, as you guessed, during those four days, free ice cream becomes a major part of numerous people’s diets.
This year Gooch and I drove out in Bessie, the ice cream truck, and we also brought in our two Bessita Toyota Yaris’ to join the Yaris-SXSW project. We rented a house in South Austin for the week and most of the ice cream crew crashed at our temporary headquarters. It was quite a nice setup and every morning Jeremiah and Vanessa or Craig would roll out to Yumi Ice Cream to restock all our freezers with over 2000 treats. Thanks to Guitar Center for helping to buy a lot of those treats too. Once everyone was loaded up we’d pull out our lists of parties then head our separate ways to conquer town.
The journey began the Friday before SXSW when I loaded up Bessie to the brim with two freezers, push cart, t-shirts, stickers, and all the gear we’d need in Austin. Early on Saturday morn I picked up Gooch who instantly put the makeshift milk crate bed to good use and we started on our way. It was such a nice relief to be driving out with someone else, especially someone who was on the insurance policy and could share driving time. It was quite a strange drive. We saw a flipped over car, sky divers, BMX bikers doing back flips, robots in the desert, and even spied Leyla’s Hearts Challenger Ice Cream truck as it passed on the back of an 18 wheeler. Our main highlight was a stop in Tucson to visit some friends and the best Philly Cheesesteaks at Frankie’s. Most of us went for the 12-inch cheesesteak with onion, provolone and Cheese Whiz. I was a bit skeptical of the Whiz at first until I realized it wasn’t the aerosol propelled EZ Cheese I had imagined. We hung out for a bit afterwards but had to hit the road to ensure we’d make it to Austin by Sunday Night. Our adventure was far from over though.
We wanted to stop by The Thing? off I-10 in Arizona but it was too late. We pushed on ’til sometime past one then pulled off the road to catch some zzzz’s. There wasn’t much room in Bessie so I decided it might be a good idea to sleep outside under the stars next to her. That didn’t really happen though because right as I was falling asleep Border Patrol rolled up on us to see what we were up to. I believe their line was, “Lotta drugs coming through here. I don’t think I’d sleep here.” Funny part was we drove just a few hundred yards down the road and found a spot where there were a bunch of truckers and cars parked and we decided to join them. Since sleeping outside wasn’t lucky, I climbed on top of the front freezer and tried to squeeze my 6 foot frame into a less than six foot sleeping area. Thankfully Dave started off driving the next morn and I got some extended rest on the milk crates.
According to our rough calculations, at an average of 50 miles-per-hour, we’d roll into Austin sometime around 10 that night. Perfect, just enough time to get a drink and relax some. This was all fine and dandy ’til about halfway through our Texas leg when we hit a storm that didn’t end ’til we woke up in Austin the next morn. I don’t usually get scared driving but when it’s hailing out and trucks are passing you and kicking up more than enough water to blind you and flood your engine, I started getting a bit nervous. It was a good thing we duct taped down the little moon roof vent on top to keep some of the water out. But, with a 1969 ice cream truck, there’s no way to keep it all out. Sometime after midnight we finally made it into Austin and camped out at Cosmo’s house for a couple nights before we checked into our South Austin house.
We had to get in on Sunday night because we had two gigs lined up for Monday. It was a bit of a mad rush to get Bessie cleaned out and loaded with cream but it all worked out once we realized the Nuclear Tacos party by the convention center didn’t start ’til later than we thought. We rolled up to Brush Square park and provided much needed relief to the folks who were testing out the insanely hot tacos (word to the wise: if you try them, don’t eat two… bad idea, I learned the hard way). The party was for the tail end of the interactive portion of SXSW and it was cool to get a glimpse into that world which is a bit different than it’s rock n’ roll cousin. Next year we’ll def try to get out early and do more interactive and film stuff. We capped off the night with cream slinging at La Zona Rosa for the big closing night party for the film portion which was a good time.
Tuesday was an organization day that sent me running around town lining up permits and making sure the rest of the Ice Cream Crew arrived safely. We also rolled by Cream Vintage to pick up 6000 copies of Off the Wookie, and checked into our new home. We were all jazzed about the events to come and as we hung around the house that night drinking some home brews we psyched each other up for all the goodness which was now only a few hours away.
Wednesday is the day when most people arrive for SXSW and we decided the best place for Bessie was right out in front of the convention center where everyone had to go to their badges. It was perfect too because the Canadian Blast party was right next to us and we were set to sling some cream there. There was a lot of good music and with James helping out, we were able to move quite a bit of cream and his help allowed me to sneak off for a bit to check out some music. Holy F-ck brought their mix of improv groove funk that was perfect for MC’s like Buck 65 and K’naan to rap over. One of the bands I was most excited to see during SXSW, Malajube, was headlining the party and I got to dance my ass off to their high energy set. After that we headed over to Waterloo Park to see if Jefferson Airplane was still playing but it looked like we missed it, bummer. That night we stopped by the Stereogum party at the Levi’s/Fader Fort for a bit then made our way over to The Enchanted Forest, which was a perfect, mellow way to wind things down for the first day.
Thursday was our super-hectic day. We had thirteen events on the calendar but had to shave off a few because, for the first time, 6th Street was closed during the day and we couldn’t get the trucks in to sling cream at places like Emo’s. The couple necessities for us were to swing by the Levi’s/Fader Fort again then hit Plus One‘s party at Hank Sinatra‘s. We had the ultimate parking spot in front of the Fort and it was hard to part with, especially with the likes of The Pipettes coming by for ice cream and some photos. I got to check out a bit of their set and instantly realized how much work it must be to sing, dance, and occasionally play instruments at the same time. Especially when they’re doing it multiple times a day. We did an Ice Cream Man Presents feature on them for our Chronicle column and made sure to get a pic with James in it that ended up being the best of the lot of ’em.
Ok, Hank Sinatra’s House/Farm/Venue. Where to begin? Nat from Plus One insisted that we stop by here. It didn’t take too much convincing once he told us a bit about the set up. Hank lives on the outskirts of town and has turned his backyard into a makeshift amphitheater. At least once a month during sunny times, singer songwriter types play at Hank’s and people from all around come to relax on the sloped lawn and to say hi to the chickens, goats, and sheep. We got there just in time to catch Trainwreck Riders which had to be the perfect band for this type of setting. Diesel-U-Music helped put things together and bought cases of Olde English 800 forties which were making the rounds. I was offered one at the truck but wisely turned it down. Illinois, one of my favorite discoveries at CMJ, was playing next and I was stoked to find out we hadn’t missed them. The overly informal setting was relaxing and the band mixed things up a bit. They played a good chunk of tracks off their new EP What the Hell Do I Know? as well as some earlier cuts that were as varied as most of the tracks off the EP. Since we were on the east side of town we rolled over to Sam’s BBQ and treated ourselves to mixed plates of goodness and RC colas. What a treat.
Thursday night was one of the events I was looking forward to most during SXSW. This is the eight year Charles Attal has been throwing his late night party and he teamed up with Playboy and C3 to make sure they had all the bases covered. Actually it was the lineup that included Ghostland Observatory, Monsters are Waiting, and Illinois (yes, one of my new favorite bands) that made it the place I wanted to be. I wasn’t sure what our setup was going to be and kinda figured we’d be parked outside. As it happened, we ended up being pulled inside and parked right in the middle of the party. YIKES! Good thing I was able to call Gooch to get him to bring his Bessita over with some reinforcements. The bunnies all came over for a photo shoot then I did a radio interview with Playmate Pilar Lastra who was the cutest of the bunch. Once it got to the four o’clock hour we had to call it quits and made our way back to home base.
It was a bit tough getting up on Friday with only a few hours sleep but there was work to do and free cream to be given away. Starr went on her way over to Jo’s Coffee shop with her Bessita and after a quick stop at the ever-so-friendly health department (BIG thanks Chuck!) we headed by the VICE Saves Texas party on the east side. It was NUTS over there. Turbonegro was getting ready to hit the stage and at first it seemed like all the folks dressed in jeans and black were too cool for ice cream. Once they saw other people getting their fill they broke down. After a couple hours we traded places with Dave’s Bessita and headed over to catch the tail end of Arthur’s The Happening Party where Benjy Ferree and Oakley Hall were playing. The French Legation is possibly the nicest venue that I’ve seen in the two years I’ve been to SXSW. It’s a large grass area with the oldest house in Austin to one side and a tent and stage set up right in the middle. I love that place. If you’re interested in renting it out for non-SXSW events like a wedding or convention, you should get a hold of them; they’re extremely friendly. Once things were wrapped up we loaded Bessie up with 12 people and headed over to Threadgill’s for some home cookin’. Yum yum. Chicken Fried Chicken and extra sides and veggies. After dropping most of the extended temporary crew off downtown we rolled up to the Diesel-U-Music Party at Saengerrunde Hall.
This party should have been so much cooler than it was. The lineup was top notch but the vibe was funky. We tried to brush it off but after people threw two ice creams on top of the truck and some punk tried to deflate one of our tires we realized there were just WAY too many jaded hipsters in attendance. If you can’t have fun at a free party with a great lineup, free booze, AND free ice cream… stay home.
Saturday was the last day of the festivities but we had no plan of slowing down. When the crew put together the order list for the day it was around 1800 new pieces. This would have pushed our stock to just over 2000. I didn’t think it was enough and increased everything by 50% to bring our stock up to almost 3000 ice creams, which is one hell of a lot when you see it all loaded into the back of an ice cream truck.
It was good we got the extra stash because the day was warm and the cream was flying out of the freezers. We were blowing through stuff at The Fort with a perfect corner parking spot and Dave was destroying it at Red 7 for the Mess with Texas giddy-up. After some calls around I realized we went through over 2000 pieces by 6:30. HOLY HOLY. We rendezvoused at Cream Vintage where Starr was keeping everything in check during the Move to Philly Party. As that wound down we made our way to Hoover’s for a much needed group dinner. More chicken fried chicken and veggies. More yum!
The capper for the night and SXSW was set to be the infamous VICE late night party that went off last year at Blue Genie (no ZZ Top, though). There was a big crackdown on unofficial late night parties this year and the Blue Genie was no longer going to work. Franki Chan had a huge, top notch party planned for Friday night there and apparently had met with Fire Marshals prior to the event. It turned out there is a new ordinance in effect that doesn’t allow for a gathering of over 49 people without a special permit. This is even if the venue’s capacity is already set to hold more. The party on Friday was shut down and VICE had to find a new spot for their Saturday gig. They looked far and wide (up to 25 miles outside of Austin) and settled on the Elks Lodge just south of Town Lake. The party was set to start at eleven and had a stellar lineup including Les Savy Fav, Against Me!, Black Lips, F-cked Up, Kid Sister, AND Flostradamus.
We arrived just prior to the doors opening and posted up Bessie in some prime real estate right in front of the main entrance. The Elks Lodge was cool but it only held 500 people. After finding this out I told all our crew to get in early before things got crazy, which of course they did. The cream slinging was a bit slow but moving steadily. Once the lodge reached capacity the line starting snaking down the long driveway out front. Right around the same time Les Savy Fav was starting their set there was a huge crash around the front side of the building. It was very loud and all the people in the front of the line ran around the corner to see what happened. At the bottom of the front wall lay ruins of what used to be the hand rail on the balcony where everyone was partying. Nobody knew what to do but once they realize that no one was hurt (miraculously) they had to shut things down and then the sirens started heading our direction. We tried to clear out some of our inventory but eventually we had to move and I dropped off a couple boxes with the tipsy crew and they held the line at bay while I warmed up Bessie and drove her around the corner and out of sight.
The thought of resting on Sunday didn’t go over too well for some reason. Maybe it was because most of the crew had to hit the road early. We wanted to take a group shot as well and there was plenty of work and cleaning to do. After the shot it was Craig, Matthias, and me left to clean the truck and house. It took a bit longer than expected. Damn… 8000 ice creams equates to hundreds of boxes to break down. We hit up Hill’s Cafe right before they closed then got back and kept cleaning/organizing/packing ’til about 1 in the morn. My alarm went off at 4:15ish and we headed to the airport to drop off the remaining crew before I was set to start the solo trip back to Long Beach. On the way back from the airport I realized there was no way I was going to stay awake so I headed back to the house for a few more hours rest. Finally it was time to bid Austin a fine farewell, and Bessie and I were on our way. We stopped at the Austin Guitar Center to drop off a big box of treats then headed west to Fredericksburg to see if anyone there needed some cream. Sure enough, a couple of newlyweds who were sitting on a bench on Main Street took a treat then I snapped a pic.
My goal for Sunday was to get out of Texas. I like Austin but the five-hundred-plus miles between Austin and New Mexico don’t offer too much in the way of eye candy. Sometime past midnight I crossed the border and crashed on top of the front freezer less than a half a mile from my goal. As I awoke the sun was rising over the hills and it was a great way to begin the day. I thought about trying to make long trip back to Long Beach in one shot but had to stop in Tucson again to drop off some Wookies, fudgesicles, and grub on another cheese steak. It didn’t take too long, or too much talking into, to realize the best option was to hang around for the night and go bike riding into town to see Elvis Perkins. Whooo hooo, much better than being stuck in a truck. Again I was up at sunrise and on my way. It took about 10 hours to get home but the traffic wasn’t too bad and podcasts from Stanford Technology Ventures Programs kept the wheels in the my head spinning enough to stay awake the whole time. Once I got home and unloaded the bare necessities I took a much needed nap.
Much love and thanks to all the crew who rolled out and helped. Without help from Guitar Center, Yaris-SWSW, and Drillteam, our adventure and all the free ice cream would not have been possible. Please thank and support them when given the chance.
Check out our 2008 SXSW Review
and 2009 SXSW Review